This is part of my developing Neville / Hannah ficverse. I may expand it into a longer story at a later date, depending on some book or other that's coming out in a few months. It can be read on its own but it'll be even better if you've read Anya's wonderful 'party fluff' here.
Title: As sweet ...
Summary: In rainy London, Hannah Abbott is lonely as she remembers a Valentine's day spent in warmer climes.
Pairing: Neville / Hannah Abbott
Word count: 2385
Warnings: Possibly slightly spoilerish for the latest chapter of Asking for Roses.
Hannah stared out of the kitchen window at the lowering sky outside. The wind howled, a freezing draught sneaking in under the back door. She shivered and put her hands around the electric kettle to warm them. Twenty-three years old, and here she was on Valentine’s day making cocoa for her dad, when she could be on the other side of the planet, with the person she loved most in the world. A traitorous tear splashed onto the cheap vinyl worktop. Was this old kettle ever going to boil? Hannah couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. She filled the mug with cold water from the tap and pointed her wand at it. As always, the scalding liquid bubbled its way over the rim. She watched the brown puddle spread and mingle with the round droplet of her tear, before sliding off the counter and dripping onto the floor. Damn, now she’d have to clean that up.
When she’d taken the cocoa to Dad, who merely grunted, not lifting his eyes from his crossword, she went back into the kitchen to start making her lunch – chilli con carne – for the next day. The food in the Ministry canteen was excellent, but it was too expensive to eat there every day. As a lowly employee in the Muggle Liaison branch of Magical Law Enforcement, Hannah’s salary didn’t stretch very far, especially when she was putting half of it away in her vault every month. She could manage to keep a roof over their heads and not much more. Dad had promised to look for a job now that she was living with him again, but she’d believe it when she saw it.
Adding the grated dark chocolate to the bubbling pot of chilli, Hannah remembered last Valentine’s day. How the evening had started so promisingly, and yet ended so badly. She’d been staying with Neville in a rented flat in Bandar Seri Begawan, where they were holidaying for a few weeks, following the successful completion of their specimen-collecting assignment in Borneo. They’d spent a hot and tiring day wandering through the tamu, taking in the colourful sights and smells of the local market stalls, coming home to enjoy a late-afternoon dip in the salt-water pool attached to their apartment complex. They hadn’t bothered getting dressed again after their swim. The old apartment, the best they could afford until the next instalment of their fee arrived in their joint Gringott’s account, wasn’t air-conditioned, and soaked up the sun’s heat during the day.
“Chocolate, in chilli … are you sure?” she asked Neville, who came up to the cooker to tip in the little pile he’d prepared with the nutmeg grater. They both enjoyed the preparation stage of cooking, the chopping and shredding and peeling, but it was Neville who was the creative one when it came to combining the ingredients. Hannah would be intent on sticking to the recipe, terrified that the dish would turn out wrong. Neville, on the other hand, was happy to experiment, take daring risks which nearly always paid off.
“Trust me,” he said, standing behind her as she stirred, wrapping his arms around her waist. His thumbs stroked her ribcage in the gap between her sarong and the top half of her bathing costume. In a minute, she knew, they’d find their way underneath her bikini top. She leaned back against his bare chest and breathed in the scent of his skin, slightly salty from his swim and intermingled with the rich smells of cumin and tomatoes and onions steaming from the hob. Underneath, however, its familiarity was unchanging – sun, rain, the earth. Even in South East Asia, Neville always reminded her of the English countryside, the garden behind their little house in North Yorkshire after fresh rainfall. A year later, it was a scent Hannah was beginning to find hard to bring to mind, during long days buried in the dusty airlessness of her office in Misuse of Muggle Artefacts.
“I do,” she replied, struggling to keep her mind on the task in hand. “But you’d better stop that, if you want to eat tonight.”
“I am hungry,” he said contemplatively, slipping his hands out of her top, but only to snap open the fastening at the small of her back. “I’m just not sure what for.”
“I – I think it’s done, anyway,” she gasped. “It needs to be left to simmer now for half an hour or so.”
“How cooperative of it,” said Neville, tugging at her sarong, while simultaneously drawing her by the hand into the bedroom next to the kitchen.
The chilli had tasted wonderful, Hannah remembered. They’d eaten it sitting cross-legged on the bed, with bread to soak up the juices, scooping up the meat and beans by hand. Then as they lay back with their coffee, the conversation had turned, again, to the future.
“The letter said both of us.” Neville said stubbornly, his voice full of hurt. “I don’t see why you can’t stay with me and accept the job.” They’d been talking round in circles for over a week but Hannah didn’t feel any impatience with him. She just felt sadder every time she looked at the clock and counted down the minutes until she would have to leave. Talking it over made the fact of her going home seem less real, as though somehow they might yet find some way to stop it happening.
“How can I do that now? I’ve already turned it down. I doubt our employers would be impressed with me shilly-shallying. Anyway, I have to go back. The Ministry is waiting for me. You know they weren’t keen on me extending my sabbatical when we were posted on from Brazil.”
“You don’t owe them anything. They exploit you. They’ve got you exactly where they want you, and it’ll stay that way until you make the break.”
“We’ve been through this before. I promised myself I’d stay there ten years. Then I’ll have done what I need to pay off my debt, and be free. You agreed with me. You thought I was doing the right thing.”
“Things change. They’ve changed for me. I have to take this job. It’s the best opportunity I’m ever going to get, but I don’t want it without you beside me.” Neville moved so that he was kneeling in front of her, taking her hands and looking directly at her. “We make a good team. I’d never have found those specimens on my own, without you to help detect the magic, in all that jungle.”
Hannah’s eyes slid sideways.“That’s not true. You’d have got them eventually, I helped speed the process up a bit, that’s all. In the mountains you won’t need me at all.” She voiced her first unassailable argument. “They only offered me the chance to stay on in order to keep you sweet, it’s obvious.” Neville opened his mouth to argue but Hannah didn’t let him cut in. “Besides, it’s more than the Ministry. You know why I have to go back to Britain.”
Her voice was quiet. She didn’t want to mention Dad but Neville shouldn’t push her this way. It wasn’t fair. It was different for him. His parents didn’t know he existed, so it hardly mattered whether he were there or not. Besides, he had the perfect excuse. It was to try and help people like Alice and Frank that they were here in the first place. Augusta had Griselda and all her other friends for company, and she really didn’t need looking after, however protective of her Neville might feel, especially now she had help around the house for a few hours each week from the house elf agency. Neither would it be fair to drag him back home, not when he’d been looking for work that would hold his interest for at least a year before getting this job, going from one small contract to another, always over-qualified. He’d made the best of it, as was his way, done his best to pretend that the rewards of being able make life easier for his Gran and put a bit to one side for the wedding were enough to satisfy him.
The wedding. Something else she didn’t want to mention. It would be spectacularly unfair to whine about having to put it off again. Besides, he’d be quite justified in bringing up the fact that was hardly his fault it hadn’t happened before they’d left England twelve months earlier. Dad again, putting in one of his periodic disappearances days before the planned ceremony. They’d laughed it off, joking about how he was worse than Neville’s old toad, Trevor. It hadn’t seemed to matter too much at the time, they were so excited at the prospect of setting off on their big adventure. Now, facing separation from Neville for the next two years, while he continued travelling around the world for a hateful boss with that scary wife with the magic that burned, Hannah couldn’t help wishing that the pretty heirloom on her finger was already completed by a simple gold band.
They were back to where they’d started. Hannah’s portkey to Britain was already booked for the following day, as was Neville’s to take him onto Nepal. The conversation had ended there, Hannah mute with the effort of not begging Neville to come back with her. After a final attempt to persuade her to stay, he too had lapsed into pensive silence.
It was the last time they saw each other until Christmas, three months later. It had been an awkward holiday, uncomfortably divided between Hannah and her Dad’s tacky rented bungalow and Augusta’s pin-neat, welcoming home. The cosy little house on the hill nearby, where they’d lived together for three years after the war, had been let to a Herbologist by the name of Belby, who’d been in their year at school and who Neville knew slightly through work. They hadn’t even bothered to make the walk up Odin’s Hill for old times sake.
When he’d headed back to the Himalayas on New Year’s Day, he promised to be back for her birthday in May, and at the same time broke the news that it was unlikely he’d be able to get away before then. They had kissed desperately, until they were breathless, but Hannah had felt ice starting to form around her heart the minute he’d gone, remembering the eagerness in his eyes winning over sadness at leaving her behind again. The separation between them was turning into more than physical distance. She was losing him, and it hurt almost unbearably.
As she set the chilli to stir itself, while she grated the chocolate into the pan, Hannah leaned into the aroma, allowing the steam to warm her chilled face. When all the ingredients were in, she sat down at the table, and listened to the wind howling. She twisted the engagement ring on her finger, wondering if she was a fool even to be wearing it still. A small scratching noise started up behind her, which Hannah ignored. Her cat really ought to have learned how to use the cat-flap properly by now. This wasn’t the house in Yorkshire, protected by all of Alice and Frank’s security spells. Nor was it as safe a place as Augusta’s, who had fostered the animal during Hannah’s stay overseas. In this anonymous London suburb, the back door stayed firmly locked at all times, even though it would take only a half-brick launched through the frosted glass if someone were determined to break in.
Was it really scratching she could hear though? It sounded more like … tapping. And it wasn’t coming from the bottom of the door, but higher up. Hannah turned round in her seat and then jumped out of it at the sight of a figure outlined in the door frame. Her heart beat faster, and she grabbed her wand that was lying on the table top.
“Who is it?” Her voice was a feeble, strangled squeak. She took herself in hand. For heaven’s sake, she could defend herself perfectly well. “I’m warning you,” she called, standing up and moving towards the door. “I’m armed.”
A very familiar voice answered, “For the love of Merlin, Hannah, it’s me. Let me in, I’ve been travelling all day. Couldn’t get a last minute Portkey for love nor money.”
Neville. She threw herself at the chains and bolts on the back door. “Wait!” she cried. “I’ll have it open in a minute.”
“I’m not waiting a second longer. Stand back.”
The door swung open slowly to reveal Neville standing there, wand upraised, looking very tanned and not at all cold in a thick, fleecy coat she hadn’t seen before, making him appear twice his usual width. No wonder she hadn’t recognised his silhouette.
“Happy Valentine’s day,” he said simply, holding out a bunch of delicate blooms in a depth of blue Hannah thought only existed in dreams. She took them from him, and laid them reverently on the counter, revelling in the knowledge that Neville would take responsibility for dealing with them – because he was here.
“Come in out of the cold,” she whispered, pulling him inside and shutting the door. She was overwhelmed by the suddenness of the change from dark, cold misery to bright light and warmth. “Why didn’t you ring the front door bell?”
“I wanted to surprise you. And I didn’t want to get your dad. I didn’t mean to scare you, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I can hardly believe it’s you, that’s all.” She moved closer, into the circle of Neville’s presence, shutting her eyes to drink in the smell of mountains, of clear, open sky. “Are you hungry? I made chilli, and I even remembered to put in the chocolate.”
His arms came up to encircle her, pulling his coat around her. She yielded to the fleece’s incredible softness and warmth, feeling the tight band of ice around her heart loosen and begin to melt. “Starving,” he murmured. “May I?”
He lifted his wand again, and severed the elastic band that was holding her hair back. He dropped his wand on the worktop, next to the flowers. “That’s my Hannah,” he said, running his hands through her hair and tipping her head back, so she was gazing directly up into his brown eyes, hot with concentration as they roamed her face, taking in every inch as he always did, making her feel like the most important thing in the universe. She stood on tiptoe to reach up for her kiss, in her impatient fashion. He didn’t keep her waiting.
His kiss was harder, more urgent than she remembered and his lips were slightly chapped, that was different. But after a moment or two, it all came back to her, and she found her body responding in the way it always had, melting and moulding itself to his, more muscled and defined than even two months earlier, yet still, indescribably, him. If she weren’t careful, in a minute they wouldn’t be able to stop themselves and Dad might walk in to find her on the kitchen table in a state of considerable disarray. That would be embarrassing. Worse, they might have to stop and have a conversation.
“My room,” she managed to articulate, as Neville’s mouth moved to her throat, his hands pushing up the back of her shirt to trace a line up and down her spine.
“How long has that chilli got to go?” he asked, nudging the flowers into the sink with his elbow and releasing her long enough to turn on the tap so that the ends of the stems were in water.
Hannah took his hand to lead him from the kitchen and along the corridor to her bedroom. She stopped by the cooker on their way out. “If I turn it down, a good hour,” she answered.